The co-founder of Neemacademy Ms. Neiha Joshi and I were first acquainted with each other at ‘She loves Tech’, an international program dedicated to women in Technology. There, I was able to briefly learn about Neemacademy a tech-driven company for today’s tech-savvy generation that aspires to transform and digitalize the education sector of Nepal by inculcating analytical thinking and conceptual learning through STEM education.
To learn more about her venture, we arranged a meeting together at Kafe codes, a lively cafe which is located in the heart of Central Business Park. Here is how our conversation unfolded.
1. Shall we begin with an introduction to your business concept?
With Neemacademy, we are trying to connect with a generation of students who are growing up in a digital age, providing them with an immersive, concept-based holistic learning environment by primarily focusing on STEM education. Our apps are integrated and interactive and designed to educate students by giving them real-life insights, allowing them to overcome traditional rote-learning.
With our learning app, we want technology to be a boon for kids. We produce interactive games, 3D pictures, and videos so that kids can spend their time productively learning instead of watching meaningless unboxing videos.
Additionally, we are developing school infrastructure and propelling schools to become technology savvy. The Government of Nepal has allocated budget for smart schools but it is not being implemented properly. In the past 4-5 months, I had a chance to visit more than 75 schools including government, private and community schools where I found that 40-50% of schools have smart boards that aren’t being utilized to their full capacity. The reason being schools do not have digital content to show. With our solution, schools do not have to underutilize their infrastructure by limiting their content to youtube videos. We provide schools with a packaged solution- our educational package consists of a projector, amazon firestick, and a tablet so schools do not have to invest loftily and our hardware can run without electricity and internet backup. Our content is available both online and offline. Similarly, all users can get the timely notification and easy access to updated content. This way our solution is affordable and efficient.
2. For how long have you been working on this concept?
We have been working on this idea for more than 1 and a half years.
3. We live in a society where parents and guardians feel that time spent on electronic devices is time wasted. So how do you tackle this misconception and make parents feel comfortable with their children spending time hooked on these devices?
That is our prime concern. To tackle this, we have developed a learner app for kids as well as for the parents. Via this, parents can track their children’s activity and progress and discover the strengths and weaknesses of their children using learning analytics provided by our app.
We have created a model that allows parents to monitor kid’s activity on mobile phones such as standard reading time. This model also tracks “inactive time” that is the time spent on background applications other than the learner’s apps.
4. How do you ensure that your curriculum is coherent to the standard curriculum?
We have mapped our curriculum to one provided by the Curriculum Development Center (CDC), which is a government body and whose standard has to mandated by every publication house. We publish our curriculum’s content only after receiving approval from the CDC.
5. What are some of the vital problems that you are facing as a company? How are you solving them?
One of the major problems that we face is inadaptability of the technology by the teachers. In some instances, we have come across teachers who don’t even know how to use Gmail! So, we provide them training and enable them to adapt to our system, app and other supporting platforms like Gmail.
Moreover, another challenge we face comes from the system itself. In Nepal, it can be very difficult to bring an innovative solution with a significant impact by avoiding people with mindset who ask what’s in it for me or how can I benefit economically. So, it is quite challenging to deal with institutions and people who want a chunk of the pie, although doing so will reduce overall positive impact.
6. As a teacher, does this mean a part of my job is being replaced by an app and how can I create my content on your platform?
Our vision is to transcend the app and become a learning management system like Udemy and Coursera where teachers and instructors can create personalized courses for their students because at the end of the day it is teachers who come in personal contact with each student and know them inside out. To achieve that, we are starting from the grassroots level by providing basic training which is quite challenging.
You firstly register yourself as an instructor then after receiving approval, you can easily create your content. We have enabled text editor option so if you want, you can create your personalized quizzes targeted to your students.
7. Who is your target audience and how do you reach out to them?
Our target audience includes students and we reach out to them using two methods. Firstly, through play store where students can download our app and use certain features and take certain courses for free. After finding value in them, the students can proceed with paid resources. Secondly, we reach out to them via schools. Similarly, those students who go to schools that are using our service can get 3-4 months of free access to our platform.
8. How many schools have you reached out to now?
We have reached out to 200+ schools in Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Biratnagar, Dharan, Ilam, and Butwal. 16 schools have come on board with us as our clients. 73 of these schools are our prospective customers for the coming school session.
9. Could you share with us the story of how Neemacademy came into inception?
Our story came into inception when the father-son duo of age-old publication Neema Pustak Prakashan thought of digitalizing their content as they saw that’s where the future was headed.
So, we started with a desktop app where we digitized all our question bank, then we started digitizing grade 10-course books. Then with IT and Teacher resources, we started creating our own content and at the same time reaching out to more than 50 schools. We gradually started making videos and other digital content. So, we started out with a simple motivation for creating a content sharing platform. We initially made content for grade 10 students and later for students from grades 1-5, based on their curriculum.
So our vision sort of metamorphosed from being a repository of digital content to the learning management system that we are pursuing ONLY by being in constant engagement with our audience.
10. How important do you think it is for start-ups to build networks and to meet people?
Speaking from my own experience, if we had not gone out in the market, we would have never explored what customers want and limited ourselves to digitalizing grade 10 question bank.
Only after talking to different stakeholders including individuals, schools, NGOs, teachers, and organizations like Teach for Nepal, and payment service providers like Khalti we could get bigger and better.
Great ideas are never confined in minds and rooms of intellects; it is a process and your initial idea will always evolve to become better.
So, Start-ups should always invest in building networks and meeting people and never be hesitant about receiving feedback and criticism. I would also like to add that especially in Nepal, networking is very powerful.
11. What are other important aspects that start-ups should keep in mind?
How many people are there in your team?
Building a good team. Be very careful and analytical about the human resources that you choose. You are transferring your dream, your time and your energy into someone. It is very critical so take your time and hire the best ones because anyone can have a very good first impression.
There are twenty people in our team right now but we are still growing.
12. What is your ultimate vision?
Our ultimate vision is to digitalize the entire school system of Nepal and develop an e-learning platform and infrastructure that includes and involves every learner. Our vision is to also expand internationally.
Interviewed and article by Shambhavi Singh.